Medical researchers work with very large volumes of data that they want to share with each other safely, rapidly and easily. A shared data and computing infrastructure can play an important part in this. SURFnet is working to provide a basis for this with its innovation project E-LAN (Ethernet Local Area Network). E-LANs are safe network environments, not connected to the Internet. In collaboration with researchers at UMCs a pilot E-LAN has been started up. The initial experience is positive.
Research into DNA sets of 75 GB each
Jeroen Laros carries out genetic research at the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC). Every day, he handles – to put it mildly – rather large data files: one dataset for the whole genome for 1 patient encompasses as much as 75 gigabytes. In the project that Laros is working on, BBMRI2, DNA datasets of nearly 1,000 people are being investigated and combined with (among other things) an even larger RNA dataset. The datasets must be available to researchers at multiple UMCs in the Netherlands, so that, for example, Leiden can perform calculations on data that was sequenced in Groningen. In brief: Laros needs more than the computer cluster and standard Internet connection offered by his institution.
Researchers like to research
Researchers want to focus on their research, and not spend a lot of time on setting up their ICT equipment for research. Currently, first of all they have to go through a special ICT equipment request procedure and coordinate this with the security officer. That takes up a lot of time for every individual project. With an ICT infrastructure that is always available, works across different institutions and is specially designed for research, researchers can get straight down to work.
E-LAN: Ethernet Local Area Network
An E-LAN from SURFnet can provide the basis for this infrastructure. An E-LAN (Ethernet Local Area Network) is a virtual private LAN, to which multiple institutions can be connected. They can exchange data in a protected network environment. That way they get collaborative equipment and a ‘local’ network with national coverage.
Positive initial experience
LUMC, UMCG and SURFsara are initially taking part in the first pilot with E-LAN. They are connected to the pilot SURFnet E-LAN and so can exchange large quantities of data superfast and reliably. The initial experience is positive. Laros: “In Leiden I do have computing power available, but if I want extra computer resources then these are directly available from SURFsara. It doesn’t matter that the extra computing power is located in Amsterdam: it still feels like it is local. The most important thing is that it is flexible: I don’t need to keep going to my IT department to ask for network or virtual machines. By hooking up to the E-LAN, it is always directly available, for me and also for my fellow researchers at LUMC”.
Vision for the future: harmonised data and computing infrastructure
The aim is for the pilot to be extended soon to more UMCs, so that eventually they will all be able to work together and make optimum use of each other’s data and computing infrastructures and those of SURFsara.
The 8 UMCs have already stated that they want to work together more closely with SURF. Once the UMCs are all connected to the SURFnet pilot E-LAN they are one step closer to having a harmonised data and computing infrastructure specifically for UMCs.